Scholars in archival studies have challenged rightly those in the humanities and social sciences who theorize the archive as a metaphor while paying little attention to practicing archivists, archival theory, or what Ann Cvetkovic calls “actually existing archives.” At the same time, and especially in the last decade, the post-modern turn in archival studies has significantly destabilized the foundational concept of “authenticity” as a core function of archival labor. In a theoretical moment when scholars have embraced the idea of the archive as a historically conjured construct, as opposed to a representational reality, how can archival theorists reimagine the archive as a tool for social justice and accountability?
Envisioning the future of the archive as a medium for critical inquiry, our issue turns to the transdisciplinary work in feminist, queer, postcolonial, and critical race studies in order to engage more fully with what Anne J. Gilliland and Michelle Caswell frame as “archival imaginaries” and “imagined records.” Diverse thinkers such as Jean Bessette, Saidiya Hartman, Kwame Holmes, María Elena Martínez, Jacqueline Jones Royster, Rebecka Taves Sheffield, and Gabriel Daniel Solis have engaged imaginatively with existing collections, imagined alternative records of the past, and envisioned new ways to engage in archival labor and study archival imaginaries for the future.
The Archival Imaginaries symposium will take up questions suggested by this rich body of work: How do archivists sustain archives as a tool for accountability in a moment when the proliferation of disinformation has critically undermined authenticity? How do archivists reclaim a liberatory future for both their users and their repositories? How can scholars utilize imaginative methods to navigate archival absences and failures? Exploring these questions, we confront archival collusions with power while asking how to transform popular imaginaries of the archive—from a static representation of reality, to dynamic conjectures that depict a past that never was, a present that cannot be, and a future that is always-already lost at the moment of conceptualization.